Births and deaths

Births and deaths

The gods that pass judgment on each Live Arts season were benevolent during the community theater’s April 21 season announcement. Seated in the balcony, members of the reading committee—including J. Hernandez, fresh from a brilliantly two-sided turn in The Voysey Inheritance at Culbreth Theatre; critical carving knife and Daedalus bookstore owner Sandy McAdams; directors Kay Leigh Ferguson and Mendy St. Ours and more—watched from above as artistic director John Gibson strode to the center of the DownStage theater space, holding a cardboard casket from the set of Mother Courage and Her Children.

A new trick for an old dog: Wilco guitarist Nels Cline brings his inventive jazz group to The Paramount Theater this summer.

Gibson’s season announcement is typically a festive occasion, the director’s stride and speech colored by his investment in the theater group’s every waking move; last year, he leapt among chalky boxes filled with childish drawings and scrawled the names of each show staged at Live Arts this season, capped by Michael Lowe’s String of Pearls (which opens May 30). A few days before this season’s announcement, however, Gibson learned that Roger Prine, a longtime LA and Four County Players volunteer and performer, had died. The theater was stripped to its skeletal base, innards open; Gibson’s fingers tightened on the casket while he spoke.

“This is the first time we’ve had a public event in a space that has been struck,” Gibson said, gesturing around the dusty room. He talked a bit about the nature of an empty space, the potential a person can see in a box as he turned the coffin over in his hands, holding the receptacle up once to chide it: “So much potential.”

“But it’s cardboard,” announced Gibson, who ripped a long valley into the box then continued. “A stand-in.” Riiip. “A lie.” Riiip. “A fake.”

The analogy was simply rendered and quietly powerful; the gods seemed to silently nod their approval. Gibson went on, noting that the past year’s productions, from Lysistrata to In the Blood, provided no easy answers to intimidating questions. “This year,” Gibson finished, looking up towards the spinsters of fate, “we’re saying ‘yes.’”

An understatement, if you ask Curtain Calls. The 2008-2009 Live Arts season will prize physical exuberance over weighty dialogue, with productions of Disney’s massive moneymaker High School Musical, Sweeney Todd and a January performance by Miki Liszt and Ground Zero dance companies with the working title “Sidesteps.” Rather than pursue the complicated, messy guts of drama, LA plans for a few more comedies to deal with the heavy stuff, from Moliere’s Tartuffe to the satirical Accidental Death of an Anarchist.

LA also said “yes” to a few familiar directors: St. Ours is slated for Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker, Ferguson will direct Gore Vidal’s Visit to a Small Planet, and Satch Huizenga follows Mother Courage with Anarchist—a strong vote of faith in Huizenga’s capabilities, in Curt’s opinion. The most interesting pairing of play and director closes the season, as Bree “Stiletto Southpaw” Luck directs Sarah “The Clean House” Ruhl’s Eurydice. The gods are pleased.

While we’re saying yes…

Live Arts wasn’t the only season announcement last week; Curt also dropped by The Paramount Theater, which unveiled a few summer surprises but still seems bent on walking a non-niche programming lineup that itself carves a niche for the venue.

Following a slightly jarring season opener with Wilco guitarist Nels Cline’s avant garde instrumental ensemble, Paramount slips back into the old recipe—equal parts folk, family and jazz. The folk lineup gets a bit of a jolt in Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, who’ll perform with local Jesse Winchester and Guy Clark, but a return performance by Virginia juggler Mark Nizer threatens to turn his act into a yawner. Which would be a first, thinks CC, for a guy who juggles a torch and a carving knife.

On the plus side, the Paramount will screen a bunch of Coen brothers films and a few classic political thrillers, among them Blood Simple, The Big Lebowski and All the President’s Men, as part of the monthly summer films installment that begins in June. White russians and Robert Redford? The Dude can abide that sort of mix.

Charles Wright has a broken toe

Seated between posters of Arthur Rimbaud and filmmaker Federico Fellini, UVA Creative Writing professor and poet Charles Wright leans back in his chair and looks out of his window, the blue boot on his foot thudding softly on his office floor. Wright, a Pulitzer Prize winner and the recipient of the 2007 Griffin Poetry Prize—the richest monetary prize awarded to a poet—planned to lug the cumbersome boot to the Library of Congress on Monday, April 28, to claim the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry for lifetime achievement, a prize he’ll share with Virginia Tech’s Bob Hicok in honor of Hicok’s latest book.

Curt talked briefly with Wright about UVA’s Creative Writing Program and its praise; The Atlantic’s 2007 evaluation of writing programs applauded everything from the school’s “Notable Alumni” to its selectivity. (Curt remembered and phrased this last honor to Wright as UVA getting props for “exclusivity,” to which Wright responded, “Is that praise?” Touche.) He also brought up Wright’s interest in teaching, which the poet described as a case of getting “caught up in the apparati [of] trying to figure out how I wanted to write,” and Wright’s reunion with poet Charles Simic, a longtime friend, at the Virginia Festival of the Book.

The talk was a quick one, but inspired Curt to dig around for details on Wright’s performance at the Festival of the Book. Turns out that tech wiz Waldo Jaquith was way ahead of CC, and has posted an audio file of Wright reading on the website of The Virginia Quarterly Review. Go check it out.


Miss Shentai last year? The concept behind the carnival at the Frank Ix Building may’ve been a mixed bag, but the short one-act at the event’s center last summer—Jennifer Hoyt Tidwell’s Dido vs. The Squid Monster—was stellar, a collection of literary treats bound up in a piñata then split wide open by local actresses Sian Richards and Kara McLane Burke.

Turns out the Performers Exchange Project, a group that includes Tidwell, Richards and Burke, has traveled to Staunton and Washington to stage workshops based on the creation of Dido that focus on how to give a homemade bit of theater a longer shelf-life. What’s more, the final workshop for Dido is slated for Monday, May 5, at Live Arts. CC thinks it’s a great chance to see Tidwell’s mash-up of T. S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald and B-movies once more. Spend $6 on a ticket and go get your monster mash on!

Want to sing “Monster Mash” at karaoke with Curt? E-mail